The parking lot outside a Fort Worth abortion provider was mostly empty Wednesday as a law banning most abortions in Texas took effect.
Four minutes before midnight Wednesday, Whole Woman’s Health of Fort Worth performed its last abortion. The abortion provider has four clinics in Texas, with 67 abortions performed at their Fort Worth location on Tuesday and more than 50 follow-up appointments.
Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services for Whole Woman’s Health, said they were committed to seeing every woman before 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Several were turned away Wednesday, Sadler said.
“It was absolutely scrambling. It was desperation. It was us really trying to figure out what we could do to minimize the trauma for our patients,” she said. “After the day was over, we had a sense of victory but it was immediately replaced by the thought we were going to have to come in today and enforce a law we don’t agree with.”
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Signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May and dubbed the “Heartbeat Act”, Senate Bill 8 prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect a fetal heartbeat. This is usually around six weeks and before most women know they’re pregnant, which is estimated to affect about 85% of all cases in Texas. It took effect Wednesday with the Supreme Court silent on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold.
“I could probably think of a few adjectives but if I had to pick one, it would be sad,” Sadler said, referring to the new law. “Sad and it’s unfair. These patients are trapped. They’re being treated as if they don’t have a sense of themselves and what’s best for them and their families.”
The only exemption to the law would be if a woman’s life was at risk due to the pregnancy, according to Kimberlyn Schwartz with Texas Right to Life. The state’s oldest and largest pro-life organization helped draft the bill. Schwartz said they are waiting on the Supreme Court’s response before it’s declared a “full celebration mode”, but they are encouraged.
“Other states have reached out to Texas Right to Life and asked how can I put this policy into my state? Again depending on what the Supreme Court does here, we’re able and ready to replicate our success in other states,” Schwartz said.
What makes the Texas law different is its enforcement method. Rather than have officials responsible for enforcing the law, private citizens are authorized to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. However, Schwartz said a woman seeking an abortion is not liable to lawsuits.
“We see that woman as a victim of society that tells her you can’t succeed unless you kill your children, that you are not enough, that you have to kill your preborn baby in order to achieve your dreams. We believe that is wrong,” she said. "What we have been seeing in the past 24 hours is that women who have been trying to go to the abortion clinic and have that abortion, they’re being turned away. They’re turning to the pro-life pregnancy centers where they’re given love and support and free sonograms and a free place to stay if they don’t have anywhere else to go."
The organization has established a website where citizens can report evidence for any illegal abortions that they think might be happening. Opponents of the law including Whole Woman’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller argue the law opens up a “bounty system”.
“A vigilante kind of system that can call into question anyone who supports access to abortions,” Hagstrom Miller said Wednesday. “All of us know somebody and love somebody who has had an abortion in our lifetime or might need an abortion at some point. I’d ask you, is this the kind of environment we want somebody we love to go through?”
Dallas-based appellate attorney David Coale with Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann said while the Supreme Court isn’t bound to a deadline for their response, they are aware of the significant impact from this new law.
“A lot of people just need to know what to do on both sides,” Coale said. “Abortion providers in Texas need to know how to run their business. People who want to bring these lawsuits want to get to the courthouse, but they don’t want to waste much time on something that’s not going to go anywhere.”
Texas lawmakers also are moving forward in an ongoing special session with proposed new restrictions on medication abortion, a method using pills that accounts for roughly 40% of abortions in the U.S.